Orthodox America

  “Lovest Thou Me?”

The last of the Sunday Gospels tells us of how the disciples had supper with Christ when He appeared to them after His Resurrection. At this supper Christ asked Peter three times, "Lovest thou Me?" Peter assured Christ that indeed he loved Him. Then Christ said to him, "Feed My sheep" and proceeded to tell Peter by what death he would glorify God. As we know the holy Apostle Peter suffered a martyr's death, being crucified upside down, Having foretold this, Christ commanded Peter to follow Him. Seeing that another disciple, John the Theologian, was also following, Peter asked, "Lord, what about him?" To this Christ replied: "What is that to thee? Follow thou me."

    Let us focus our attention on this passage. Christ asks one of His closest disciples: "Lovest thou, Me?" Hearing that truly he loves Him, Christ tells him to show this in very deed--to shepherd the flocks of Christ or, in other words, to be concerned for others. With this question Christ also addresses us today: "Do you love Me ?"

    Looking into our hearts, what answer shall we give? It is perhaps frightening to say that we do not love the Lord. Our tines require a sacrificial love for the Lord, and everyone in some way is faced with the test of this love. What will Christ say ia answer to our response? "If you love Me, then show it in your deeds." Very likely He will also say, as He did to Peter, Feed My sheep. And involuntarily we burst forth with the question: "But how? We are not apostles, we are not even members of the clergy," some might say. "How are we to feed the sheep if we are not concerned with pastoral work?" We must take a broader view. What does it mean, to shepherd? To shepherd means--to be anxious, to t take care that none should perish; it means to have concern for one's fellow man, beginning with those who are closest, one's family, one's children. This is the test of love. if you trouble yourself to care about others, it means that you love Christ. If such concern has no part in your life, your love exists only in words.

    How indifferent we have become one towards another. We may have occasion to help someone materially, although even this is rare. But to be concerned that people should know God, that they should be honest, upright; to take care to raise one's children in the Christian spirit--how few people do this. Nowadays the work of bringing up children has been so shamefully neglected. And who really cares that people do not know God, that they are following the wrong road?

What is worse, we do not even trouble ourselves over our own children. We dress them, feed them, and think we've done our duty. But this is not even a minimum, What about building good character? We are so concerned with our own selves, our own material well-being... Is this not the cause of the widespread drunkenness, hooliganism, immorality, and all manner of lawlessness which plagues our society today? How does this reflect our love for God? Is our love no more than words? Love demands sacrifice-perhaps even suffering. Here we have the example of the holy Apostle Peter whose very life, it seems., was an affirmation of his -love for the Lord and his care over His sheep. But even he had to confirm this love--which he did in giving the ultimate proof by his very death which he suffered for Christ's sake.

     We often look around to sue what others think of us. "Follow Me!" said the Saviour. To follow after Christ means more than knowing how to cross oneself. One must do the work of God, and this is not easy! Nevertheless, one must do it, for in this life everything else is needful only for a time, whereas the work of God brings eternal benefit. The summit of this work is love for Christ, which should reveal itself first of all in our care for others. Let us test ourselves: do we love the Lord? Do we trouble ourselves over our neighbor? I f so, we are following the Lord. But wait, just as we think all is in order, we are faced with another danger--pride. We are tempted to think that we are in the forefront, and taking pride in our position, we often show no tolerance for another who is walking by our side. "What about him?" we ask, perhaps not openly but somewhere in our heart. In the same way, our neighbor looks at us and asks, "What about him?" Christ's answer to Peter was very direct, and in the same way He says to us: "What is that to you?" Do not look at others; look only to yourself, to see that you are working. We must rejoice at each laborer who works by our side, even if he should surpass us, even if he is in front of us. Oh, how we must battle with ourselves to uproot our pride, our self-opinion, our zeal to be first. And here the Resurrected Lord gives us a lesson.

    Do we love Him? Do we feed His sheep? That is, do we really trouble ourselves to care about our neighbors? Do we struggle with our pride, our intolerance, with the unwillingness to see others ahead of us? If indeed we do love the Lord and concern ourselves about others, but at the same time w e are prideful, we must be ready to accept all that the Lord sends our way, even if this means to suffer. The Holy Fathers write that if someone has love for God and his neighbor but suffers from pride, the Lord will often chasten him, sometimes even to the point of letting him fall. Who knows, perhaps it was for this reason that Saint Peter had to suffer such a cruel death. The Apostle John the Theologian, on the other hand, loved the Lord, loved his neighbor, and at the same time had no pretensions. Was it because of this that his long life ended so peacefully? God sees us more clearly than we ourselves.

    Let us give ourselves over into the hands of God, and let us on our part love Him in very deed, actively caring for our neighbor. Let us look around. What unrest there is; how many people there are aimlessly wandering along the pathways of this world; children grow up without any fundamental moral upbringing... And let us say to the Lord: Thou knowest that we love Thee, and for this reason we are going to turn our attention to the needs of others, to care for them with a holy and selfless love.      Fr. Dimitry Dudko

(Translated from Vo Vremya I Ne Vo Vremya Brussels, 1978)

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